When former President George H.W. Bush is laid to rest Thursday afternoon at his presidential library in College Station, Texas, the ceremony will mark the end of a long-established ritual planned, with literally military precision, down to the second.
His family had a large role in planning the funeral for Bush, who died Friday at age 94. But it is the Military District of Washington, part of Joint Task Force-National Capital Region, that is responsible for staging the ceremonies — anti-royalist America's answer to royal pomp and circumstance.
And make no mistake: It is a military operation, befitting a war hero who gave his service revolver to a Navy lieutenant aboard the submarine that rescued him after his plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean during World War II. It involves military units coordinating split-second movements in at least three states and the District of Columbia, not to mention the Air Force's flagship jet, Air Force One, which flew Bush's body from Houston to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, touching down on Monday at 3:23 p.m. ET
Traditionally, a former president's body is transported from the base to the Capitol in a flag-draped, four-wheeled caisson that was built in 1918 to carry a 75-mm cannon. It is escorted by three military march units and personnel from all five military academies, coordinated by the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment — the Old Guard — based at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia.
The procession is timed to advance at exactly 3 mph and 100 steps per minute.
Bush's body will remain at the Capitol until Wednesday morning where lawmakers and members of the public can pay their respects. It will be taken to Washington National Cathedral for only the 34th state funeral in the nation's capital in American history, according to the Office of the Architect of the Capitol. It follows the services for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., by barely three months.
On Wednesday after the state funeral, the presidential plane — temporarily renamed Special Air Mission 41 in honor of the 41st president — will return Bush's body to Texas for burial.
It takes 133 pages to lay out all the procedures in an Army manual titled "State, Official and Special Military Funerals." The joint military task force said as many as 4,000 military and Defense Department civilian personnel would be involved in some ceremonial, security or logistical capacity.
Bush, himself, gave the Military District of Washington a 211-page document detailing what he wanted. He requested that a "missing man" formation flyover of fighter jets and that the presidential fanfare, "Hail to the Chief," not be performed at his burial.
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Former President Jimmy Carter will attend the funeral service in Washington on Wednesday, a spokesperson said.
Sully, the 2-year-old Labrador retriever that was assigned to Bush — who used a wheelchair in the last years of his life — by America's VetDogs, which places service dogs with veterans with disabilities, was with Bush's body in Houston on Sunday night. Bush's spokesman, Jim McGrath, tweeted a photo of Sully in front of the former president's casket.
The charity said that after he spends a short vacation at headquarters in Smithtown, New York, Sully will join the dog program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, assisting wounded soldiers and active-duty personnel.
There will, however, be one man with the former president at every step until he is laid to rest on Wednesday: Army Maj. Gen. Michael L. Howard, commanding general of Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region.
"This state funeral is a culmination of years of planning and rehearsal to ensure the support the military renders President Bush is nothing less than a first-class tribute," Howard said in a statement.
4:15 p.m. CT: Arrival and interment, George Bush Presidential Library & Museum, Texas A&M University
CORRECTION (Dec. 3, 2018, 8:28 a.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated that former President Jimmy Carter would not attend the funeral service for George H.W. Bush in Washington on Wednesday. He will attend, a spokesperson said Monday.
Alex Johnson is a senior writer for NBC News covering general news and technology and religion. He is based in Los Angeles.